Interview: Emily Perkins

Emily Perkins Sunday Mag

In July 2016 I interviewed author Emily Perkins about her experience adapting Eleanor Catton’s first novel The Rehearsal for the big screen. Here’s a taste:

How well do you remember your formative years? If you close your eyes, can you transport yourself back to the time when you lived away from home for the first time, had your brain rewired by a charismatic teacher, practiced clumsy beginner sex and figured out who you wanted to be in the world?

Emily Perkins can. “You know how people think they might have a particular resting age? I think mine is probably about 24. I mean of course you change and life changes you, and thank God for that, but there’s something about that time of life that does fascinate me.”

The profile was the cover story in the Sunday Star Times magazine, Sunday, on 24 July 2016. You can read it here.

Review: The Mandibles – A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

This review first appeared on The Spinoff on 30 June 2016

In humans, the mandible is the largest and strongest bone in the face. In insects, mandibles are those freaky appendages near the mouth, used to grab food and fend off rivals. In Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, the Mandibles are an American family fighting to survive, including by fending off rivals for food, following the collapse of the greenback in 2029.

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Review: deleted scenes for lovers by Tracey Slaughter

This review first appeared on The Spinoff on 19 May 2016.

“It is possible to say it,” says one of Tracey Slaughter’s narrators in deleted scenes for lovers, steeling herself to name the cancer that is eating her body from the inside. She can’t bring herself to say it to anyone at the party she’s hosting, but she names it to herself, learning against the bathroom wall, drunk, after an ambiguous encounter with her boss, “feeling it move in her mouth the way it’s moved in her body.” The reader knows exactly what the diagnosis is, but Slaughter never puts the word on the page.

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Dear Mamas Episode 4 transcript: Sleep

In February 2016, Emily Writes and I started a monthly parenting podcast called Dear Mamas. Our manifesto is no bullshit, no judgement, and we hope to build friendship, support and community. You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or Stitcher, or listen on Emily’s blog. I’ll be posting transcripts of each episode here for anyone who’s unable to listen.

In this Mother’s Day special we tackle one of the classic parenting topics: sleep! We don’t have an expert guest, because we’re just not ready to hear any more sleep advice! Instead we talk frankly about our own experiences with kids who don’t sleep, and offer our own gentle suggestions (never advice!) about how to support mums who are in this situation.

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An interview with Patricia Grace

My aim has always been to write about ordinary people and their ordinary lives.

Since becoming the first Māori woman to publish a book of short stories in English in 1975, Patricia Grace has always made a commitment to tell the stories of ordinary people and their ordinary lives. That just happens to be a political act when those people haven’t had a voice in literature before, and a revolutionary act when their ways of telling stories push the boundaries of conventional literary form.

Grace’s 2015 novel, Chappy – her first in 10 years – tells the story of a Japanese stowaway who finds himself integrated into a small Māori community before running away from his family to avoid capture as an “enemy alien” in WWII. It’s warmer and gentler than her earlier work, but no less political in its expectation that readers see Māori communities for what they are: strong, loving, resilient.

It’s shortlisted in the fiction category in next week’s Ockham Book Awards. Ahead of the ceremony in Auckland, I interviewed Grace from her home in Hongoeka Bay, Wellington. You can read it on The Spinoff.

How podcasts saved my life, then nearly destroyed it

First published on The Spinoff on 2 May 2016.

I was having a rough time. My partner was sick and we had a small child. I was working full time, and doing most of the domestic work too. Our daughter was not a “good sleeper”, and the most reliable way to get her to nap during the day was to take her out for a long walk.

Between working, walking, and washing dishes, nappies and clothes, it was hard to catch a break. My days felt relentless, from the moment I woke until I collapsed into bed (too late) at night. While there was no question that I would do what I must to support my partner and daughter, I wasn’t particularly selfless about it. I missed my old self, the spontaneity and freedom I’d had when things were easier. It was easy to feel resentful, especially as I dragged myself up after finally putting our daughter to sleep each night, only to make a start on the dinner dishes that had piled up in the sink.

The first few times friends linked to season one of Serial, I ignored it. I tend to be a late adopter. But after a while it was unavoidable: people whose taste I trusted and admired were going nuts for this thing. I downloaded the first episode, plugged in my earphones as I set about loading the dishwasher, and was hooked.

Here was a form of entertainment I could digest, engage with and enjoy, while getting on with all the domestic shit I had to do on a daily basis. It was a revelation. Instead of stomping around in a resentful haze, I started to actually look forward to my domestic tasks. Listening to podcasts while doing housework had become my self-care, which is pretty sad if you think about it too much, but I didn’t.

My list of subscriptions expanded. From Serial to its parent podcast This American Life. From there to other American National Public Radio shows, including the parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time. Once I figured out parenting podcasts – where people acknowledged how hard and unrewarding parenting can be – were a thing, I became even more obsessed. Now housework was my therapy too.

I discovered a parenting show called One Bad Mother, whose tagline is “this is hard and no-one gives a shit.” This was my kind of podcast! I liked it so much I decided to go back to the beginning and binge-listen the whole thing. That was two year’s worth of weekly hour-long podcasts – about 100 hours. I got through it in two months. I would tell myself that I would stop after one episode, but if I still had five or so minutes of housework to do, I would cue up the next one. I started to fear silence.

This tendency was not entirely new. As long as I can remember, I’ve lived in households where National Radio – RNZ these days – is on all the time. I remember times when I was home from university in the summer holidays, my mother at work, and my summer job in the TAB call centre not due to start until late afternoon, when I’d by paralysed with indecision about what to do with my unstructured morning. I would keep the demons at bay by listening to every interview and news bulletin on Nine to Noon. It was informative, but not particularly productive, and often incredibly boring. (By the way, RNZ publishes now pretty much all its content as podcasts. I know because I have listened to it all. The Spinoff podcasts are alright too.)

But now, with a whole universe of content at my fingertips, I could fill the fearful space apparently permanently. I started to resent the time it would take to have a shower because I didn’t have a way to listen without getting my phone wet. In my rare and precious free time, I’d delay leaving the house to do something I really wanted to and knew I needed to do – go for a swim, for example – because I wouldn’t be able to listen to a podcast while I was doing it.

I loved my daily train ride for the time it gave me to listen, but I stopped biking to the station and started walking, prolonging my commute so that I would have more listening time. At work, I took my phone and headphones into the lunchroom and shut myself off from my colleagues so to keep listening. Sometimes – and I’m not proud of this – I took my phone with me to the toilet.

After a while I realised I had stopped listening to music.

My partner’s health began improving and he started to be able to do more around the house. Sometimes after I came out from putting the kid to bed, he’d join me in the kitchen and offer to help load the dishwasher or pack lunches for the next day.

Remember where I started out? Seething with resentment at having to do everything myself and lamenting the egalitarian household I’d always assumed I would live in?

Now I actually sent him away, so I could prolong the work and listen to more podcasts. Somewhere along the way, something had gone very badly wrong.

Eventually he got angry. One day he shouted. “You and your dependence on podcasts. Face it, it’s weird.”

I bristled. But he was right of course. What had started as a healthy coping mechanism had become an unhealthy obsession.

These days my podcast problem is pretty much under control. I still subscribe to a few, but I listen to music again too. I accept help with the housework. Things at home are easier; my partner is doing well, and our daughter sleeps a bit better – sometimes.

When I finished the backlog of One Bad Mother, I figured that if I had responded so strongly to people talking honestly about parenting, there was probably room for someone to do it here in New Zealand. I started my own parenting podcast, Dear Mamas, with blogger Emily Writes.

After months of passive consumption, it felt good to use some of that time and energy in the act of creation. It turns out when I stopped trying filling the silence with other people’s voices, I made a little space for my own.

Dear Mamas Episode 3 transcript: Fussy Eating

In February 2016, Emily Writes and I started a monthly parenting podcast called Dear Mamas. Our manifesto is no bullshit, no judgement, and we hope to build friendship, support and community. You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or Stitcher, or listen on Emily’s blog. I’ll be posting transcripts of each episode here for anyone who’s unable to listen. Huge thanks to @mamamuriel  for this transcript.

This month we talk to nutritionist Saya Hashimoto of The Kid’s Fed Up about dealing with fussy eaters. Saya is AWESOME and she calmly and generously answers all our terrified questions, like CAN OUR CHILDREN SURVIVE ON CUCUMBER ALONE?

If, like us, you’ve ever worried about what you kid is eating, but you don’t want any bullshit or judgement about it, this is the episode for you.

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I did my first TV interview since leaving politics this week. I was hesitant about doing it but I think it turned out ok. It’s about my experience becoming a mum while in Parliament and how it could be made easier for others. It’s very much based on my essay in The Interregnum which was published earlier this month. And here it is.


Review: American Housewife by Helen Ellis

This review was first published on The Spinoff on 16 March 2016.

If the rumours are true, not only do we have another season of The Bachelor and a New Zealand Survivor to look forward to, but soon the Real Housewives franchise will hoist up a gilt-framed mirror in Herne Bay and show the rest of us something terrifying and unfamiliar.

Timely, then, to explore the archetype in the adept hands of a bona-fide society wife. None of this single mother with three children running a business passing as a housewife crap – Helen Ellis, author of American Housewife, is the real deal.

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